Steelers fall to 2-5 with awful performance

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Years from now, when football historians and just plain fans might be looking back on the decline and fall of the long run of championship-caliber Steelers teams in the early part of the 21st century, they will focus on several large scale issues, and if those do not well enough drive home the point, they will focus on this game.

They will look to Oct. 27, 2013, when in not quite the way Mike Tomlin wanted or expected it, Hell was unleashed on the Steelers.

They will single out this game, the one that removed the Steelers, not automatically but certainly realistically, from playoff contention and shredded the 2013 season.

They will focus on the absolutely inexplicable first play of the game from scrimmage, when virtually the entire Steelers defense went for a fake into the middle of the line as the wildly gifted quarterback Terrelle Pryor pranced outside with the ball, tucked it in and and rambled 93 yards for a touchdown that gave the Raiders a lead they would never relinquish on their way to a 21-18 win.

And most certainly they will scratch their heads in utter disbelief that Shaun Suisham, 14-for-14 on the season on field goal attempts, would miss not one but two kicks from what amounted to chip-shot range. Suisham missed from 34 yards in the final seconds of the first half. Worse, after the Steelers used 16 plays and 9 minutes, 11 seconds to move 75 yards after taking the second half kickoff, he missed from 32 yards.

If Suisham makes one of those two, the game goes to overtime where the Steelers would have taken an avalanche of momentum. If he makes both, the Steelers would be 3-4 and very much in contention for one of the six AFC playoff berths. There are only seven teams in the conference with records better than 3-4. With nine weeks remaining, it is possible that several of those teams, one at 4-4, another at 4-3, might have been caught.

But the Steelers are not 3-4, they are 2-5, which means there are 13 teams with a better record.

For the Steelers to finish 9-7, no guarantee of making the playoffs, they would have to go 7-2 in their remaining nine games. There is no indication -- absolutely none -- that they are capable of doing that.

The game was a horror show for the Steelers, who gained 90 yards in the first half, three fewer than Pryor had on one play.

• On their second possession, both of which were three-and-out, the Raiders blocked a punt by Zoltan Mesko and took possession 26 yards from the goal line, from where they scored in five plays to take a 14-0 lead at the midpoint of the first quarter.

• Midway through the second quarter, it looked as though the Steelers had recovered a fumble deep in Oakland territory when the Raiders botched the return of a punt. But, no, an overaggressive Antwon Blake inadvertently grazed the ball before it was touched by an Oakland player and the Raiders kept possession. And then moved 72 yards for a touchdown to take a 21-3 lead.

• With the Steelers trailing, 21-10, in the third quarter, on the possession after they had scored their first touchdown, Antonio Brown snared a pass that looked to be good for 25 yards as he went out of bounds at the Oakland 40. But he failed to keep possession and the Steelers had to punt.

• The next time the Steelers had the ball, Raiders defensive back Tracy Porter scooped a deflected pass just as it was about it hit the turf for an interception.

• With about 90 seconds remaining, Ben Roethlisberger, under heavy pressure, threw a ball up for grabs -- a junior varsity mistake -- that was intercepted by the Raiders, seemingly ending the game. But the Raiders were holding on the play and the Steelers went on to score to move within five points.

• After that score, the Steelers went for the two-point conversion to move within a field goal of the lead and dialed up a play in which, apparently, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was going to take the ball on a reverse and throw a pass. But with no one open, Sanders managed to run into the end zone.

But that was it. The Steelers got the ball for one more play and with no time outs Roethlisberger threw to Sanders in the middle of the field as time expired.

There’s blame to be placed everywhere -- offense, defense, special teams. But Tomlin stands front and center after this one. Tomlin cannot run, pass, block or tackle. But under his stewardship, a decent team, possibly a playoff team, has turned sour.

The cry will go up from some that Tomlin should be fired, almost as though he has not taken the team to two Super Bowl, winning one of them, and, so far, has yet to have a losing season.

Tomlin has done more than enough to keep him job. But as he himself would say, he’s a 2-5 coach and that’s not good enough.


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